BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Board members of the beleaguered Market Basket grocery store chain asked employees to come back to work with promises not to retaliate against employees engaged in the protests.
After a closed-door meeting to discuss the company's future, the board also said they will "seriously consider" a proposal from its fired chief executive to buy the company as the chain faces a workers' revolt that has paralyzed the stores.
In a statement issued shortly after the meeting, the company issued a statement calling on employees to get back to work.
"The negative behavior of certain current and former associates is at variance with the Company's culture of putting the needs of the Market Basket customers first. It is now clear that it is in the interests of all members of the Market Basket community for normal business operations to resume immediately," the statement reads.
But later Friday evening, the company issued another statement with a more conciliatory tone, promising not to retaliate against employees engaged in the protests. The statement reads:
"The past month has been trying. We appreciate the strain this change of leadership has placed on our associates. We welcome back associates who are committed to Market Basket's customers. There will be no penalty or discipline for any associate who joins in what will be a significant effort to return to the unparalleled level of performance and customer service that have been hallmarks of the Market Basket brand. There will be no change to Market Basket's unmatched compensation and benefits."
The downtown Boston board meeting was held as thousands of employees, customers and supporters attended the largest protest rally yet outside a store in Tewksbury on Friday.
Traffic backed up on Interstate 495 in the morning as thousands of people made their way to the rally.
The Market Basket protests since July 18 have led to empty store shelves, angry customers and support for a boycott from more than 100 state legislators and mayors.
They are demanding the reinstatement of beloved former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, who workers credit with keeping prices low, treating employees well and guiding the company's success.
For the past week, warehouse workers have refused to make deliveries to Market Basket's stores, leaving fruit, vegetable, seafood and meat shelves empty.
Workers have held huge protest rallies and organized boycott petitions through social media, attracting thousands of supporters.
Customers are defecting to other grocery stores. In some cases, customers have taped receipts from competitors to Market Basket windows.
Despite threats by new management to fire any workers who fail to perform their duties, some 300 warehouse workers and 68 drivers have refused to make deliveries. So far, eight supervisors have been fired.
Demoulas was fired last month by a family faction supporting his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas.
Both are grandsons of the company's founder and have been locked in a decades-long feud.
The Tewksbury-based chain has 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine with 25,000 employees.
Arthur T. Demoulas said in a statement released Thursday morning that he and his side of the family want to buy the portion of the company now controlled by relatives who backed his firing last month.
The amount of the offer was not disclosed, but a trade publication estimated the company's value as high as $3.5 billion.
The Boston Globe reported Friday that there may be other interested buyers as well. Some of those offers, however, were made before the most recent upheaval within the chain and there are no details as to who or how much.
Many employees are distrustful of Arthur S. and two co-chief executives who were brought in from outside the company: Felicia Thornton, a former executive of the grocery chain Albertsons, and Jim Gooch, former president and chief executive at RadioShack Corp.
Arthur S. has not spoken publicly, while Gooch and Thornton have communicated only through prepared statements. They assured workers in a statement that they are not planning drastic changes in the way the company is operated, and urged employees to return to work.
WBZ-TV's Sera Congi reports from Boston
Eleanor Corcoran, a Market Basket customer, dropped off bags containing 100,000 petitions to the board meeting Friday in downtown Boston.
The petitions support the return of Arthur T. DeMoulas as the company's chief executive. They also call for customers to stop shopping at Market Basket unless DeMoulas returns.
WBZ NewsRadio's Karen Twomey reports
Market Basket Board To Meet As Workers Stage Huge Rally
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